The close season is traditionally a time where clubs jettison their weak players, replacing them with footballers with the skill to take the club one step further, whether that be to qualify or European competition or avoid another year’s relegation struggle. With that in mind I thought it would be interesting to see which clubs decided a wholesale change would be preferable to keeping faith with the players who toiled their way through the 2011/2012 season.
I took the line-ups from the last day’s action of the twenty Premier League sides of the 2011/2012 season (this includes West Ham, Southampton and Reading’s last Championship game of the season) and compared these line-ups with the opening day of this year’s Premier League season (2012/2013). The headline figure from this process is that 40% of all players who started the first game of the 2012/2013 season did not start in the last game of the 2011/2012 season (or if they did, it was for a different football club). Obviously this 40% is not entirely made up of new signings as it also includes players who were on the squads of their current teams last season but for whatever reason (be that injury or not being selected) did not start the game.
Of the twenty current Premier League clubs no club fielded an identical line-up between the end of last season and the start of this season. However, two clubs made only one change. These two clubs were Everton and Manchester City who fielded ten players on the last day of the 2011/2012 season that also started in the club’s opening fixture this season. The only difference between the Everton XI against Newcastle United in 2011/2012 and their opening day side that started (and defeated) Manchester United is that Sylvian Distin started against Manchester United. Interestingly Distin did play against Newcastle in 2011/2012 when he came on as a substitute for Hetinga. We weren’t to know it at the time but between the minutes of ’70 and ’74 the team Everton had on the field against Newcastle United would be the identical eleven that would start the season against Manchester United over three months later. It’s perhaps ironic (if you enjoy using the term loosely, or incorrectly) that the only change in Manchester City‘s starting line-up for their opening day 3-2 victory over Southampton to their last day win against QPR was the inclusion of Everton’s (another club who enjoy making few changes) Jack Rodwell (a replacement for Gareth Barry).
Two clubs who enjoyed successful seasons in 2011/2012 also made very few changes. Wigan Athletic and Newcastle United only made two changes between the end of last season and the beginning of this. Wigan Athletic brought in new signing Ivan Ramis and burly centre-half Alvaro Alcaraz whilst Alan Pardew also made defensive changes with Danny Simpson and Steve Taylor joining the starting XI. Of all the Premier League clubs it’s only Everton and Newcastle United that fielded starting elevens on the opening day of the 2012/2013 season who were also contracted to the club in the previous season.
Tottenham Hotspur, Reading and Stoke City all started eight players who started last season’s finale. The three clubs had differing reasons for their trio of changes. Spurs were under a new manager in Andre Villas-Boas who was trying to put his own stamp on the side with new signing Gylfi Sigurdsson starting alongside Jermaine Defoe in attack. The Biscuitmen, promoted under Brian McDermott last season, fielded three new signings in Chris Gunter, Danny Guthrie and Pavel Pogrebnyak who they hope will help keep them in the division. Finally Stoke City in an attempt to consolidate their presence in the Premier League started with Marc Wilson, Asmir Begovic and Michael Kightly, none started The Potters’ final game of the 2011/2012 season.
Sunderland, Southampton, Swansea City and West Ham United began the season with seven of the eleven who began the last game of the previous season. Notable signings for these sides included Swansea’s Michu and Chico who have made impacts for differing reasons in the opening weeks of the season for their goalscoring and red card exploits. Similarly to Reading, Saints have signed players they feel are good enough to keep them in the division, both Jay Rodriguez and Nathaniel Clyne started in their opening 2012/2013 fixture. Martin O’Neil has started his first full season as Sunderland boss and fielded new signing Carlos Cuellar in the Rokerites’ (no I didn’t get the memo) first match of the season.
2011/2012 Premier League runners-up Manchester United fielded five players on the opening day who didn’t start the last game of the previous seaosn. These included the injured Tom Cleverley and Nemanja Vidic as well as new signing Shinji Kigawa. Other clubs who featured five different players were Fulham, Norwich City and West Brom.
QPR and Liverpool were the two sides that fielded five players for the last game of the 2011/2012 season who also started the 2012/2013 season. QPR’s slapdash signings have led to the likes of Fabio, Ji-Sung Park, Robert Green and confused Julian Hoilett playing for the London club whilst Liverpool’s new boss Brendan Rodgers has brought the likes of Joe Allen and Fabio Borini to Anfield.
The four Arsenal players to survive from the last game of last season were Gervinho, Wojciech Szczesny, Thomas Vermaelen and Carl Jenkinson. The seven players who started this season were Santiago Cazorla, Abou Diaby, Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Kieran Gibbs. Podolski and Carzola were the two new signings for the north-London club. The other five players were already on the books at Arsenal.
Only three of Chelsea‘s line-up for the final game of the 2011/2012 season started this season’s opener. This can largely be explained by the fact that Roberto di Matteo was resting a lot of his star men in preparation for the Champions League Final against Bayern Munich. I think it’s fair to say that this tactic worked as his Chelsea side were victorious in a penalty shoout-out after a gruelling period of extra-time. For the record, the three Chelsea players who played in last season’s last game and this season’s opener were Ryan Bertrand, captain-fantastic John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic.
The other side who only had three players to achieve the feat were Aston Villa. I think this case is a little less surprising than most. Villa sacked their manager Alex McLeish in the summer, replacing him with Norwich boss Paul Lambert. Despite replacing a Scotsman with a Scotsman it appears Lambert has his own ideas on how he wants Aston Villa to play. The only three players who started in McLeish’s last game and Lambert’s first were Stephen Ireland. Ciaran Clark and Shay Given.